Sunday, 5 June 2011

Berlin Grunewald - Deep in the Greenwood

It is an interesting statistic that 18% of Berlin - almost a fifth - is taken up by forest. By which I don't mean park areas like the Tiergarten, but real, dense, natural woodland where it is not inconceivable (and in some areas a certainty) that you could come across a pack of wild boar.

It is no revelation that the Germans have a love for tree'd landscapes. At the heart of the Germanic Romantik soul is a dark forest, whether it is the one Arminius' Teutonic armies emerged from to hold the Romans to the border of the Rhine (think the scene at the beginning of the film Gladiator), or the enchanted forests of Grimm's Hansel & Gretel and so many other 'Märchen', or the nightmare treescapes of painter Caspar David Friedrich. Brits also love forests as well of course, especially when inhabited by the likes of Robin Hood, it's just that in Germany they historically didn't have a need to chop them all down. Most of England's forests, for example, went into producing timber to build the Royal Navy's fleet from Henry VIII's time onwards, and then the merchant navy that colonised a quarter of the world. Germany's forests on the other hand were kept primeval for the benefit of the feudal overlords, so they could go stag and boar hunting when they weren't bedding the newly weds of their downtrodden vassals. Allegedly. By the time a united Germany needed a navy, steel had been invented and they were pretty damn good at producing and using steel, as history went on to show.

By which circuitous route brings me to our day out today in the forests of the Grunewald in Western Berlin. Because our destination was the Grunewald Tower (Grunewaldturm), erected in 1897 in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I, who knew a thing or two about building an iron navy.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Turm Grunewald
The tower is 55 metres high and gives an unequalled view across the river Havel and its inlets, and of the vast Grunewald forest with central Berlin peeping up in the distance. It cost us 3€ each to climb the tower, which has a lot of steps and no lift, but that includes a 1€ voucher off food or drink from the adjacent restaurant and Biergarten (live music included, take it or leave it. And I could happily leave a strangled version of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' to its fate in the dark heart of the forest).

The view would be better if there weren't bars in the way to stop bungee jumpers or whatever, but here is a telephoto view where you can just make out the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz on the horizon (click for bigger).

View East from the Grunewaldturm

And this is looking more North West towards Spandau, with the Havel in the foreground:

The River Havel
Inside the base of the tower is a statue of the man himself, Kaiser Bill:

Kaiser Wilhelm I
And when was it built again? Oh yes, I remember:

The brickwork writing says: 'The locality of Treptow built me in 1897'
A very pleasant day out then, on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. The added poignancy is that the last time we were here together was on my Beloved's birthday, back before we had moved to Berlin, and it was natural landscapes like this that made us fall in love with the city. And then just to top it all, whilst we were waiting for the bus back, a man cycled past us completely naked! Now, you don't get that kind of thing in the Peak District! (ok, probably you wouldn't want to, but it just shows how free life is here, ja?).